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How Automation is Changing the World

The cloud, social tools, and the internet of things have enabled businesses to automate a lot of tasks that used to be exclusive to large enterprises. Automation is everywhere, from the allegedly very human process of hiring and recruiting where automated systems sift through applications and find the best people, to using tools like Wrike and Trello to set up software-supported workflows.

For example, marketers might use Wrike to set up a series of automated tasks such as follow-up emails, editing social media content, and scheduling social media posts. What’s more, automation is not exclusive to businesses. Personal tasks can also be automated, such as setting reminders or tracking expenses.

In 2013, only 12% of people surveyed by research firm Gartner said that automation had affected their professional lives. However, by 2016 that number had risen to 49%. Surveying over 1,000 IT and business professionals, they also found that 76% of people said their jobs were affected by it.

Table of Contents

  1. How it changed the world in the past
  2. How technology is automating tasks
  3. Improving office work
    a. Better collaboration
    b. More productivity
    c. Fewer mistakes
    d. More detailed reporting
    e. Time management
    f. Remote workers
  4. Areas of Impact
    a. Work
    b. Communication
    c. Travel
    d. Shopping
    e. Entertainment
    f. Consumption
    g. Healthcare
  5. Opening a business is now easier than ever, but that also means increased competition.
  6. Key takeaways

How it changed the world in the past

We can make parallels between the past and today, where working conditions are poised to improve, repetitive work will need less and less human intervention, and products are available to the masses. This time not physical goods but software that allow business to be conducted from virtually anywhere without specialized technical knowledge. 

Many inventions and innovations over the last century have originated with automation. From the assembly line to computer processors, automation has enhanced productivity and efficiency. The industrial revolution being the first major era in human history where automation changed the world.

In many fields, machines replaced the need for human labor. Factories became more productive and efficient, and people were no longer needed for certain repetitive tasks. It changed the way people worked and influenced the development of modern civilization. As factories began using assembly lines, mass production became possible for the first time, with workers becoming more productive and factories more efficient. 

Slowly, as factories became more complex and more menial tasks were automated, working conditions improved, and humans were able to take on higher-value work. Production times were reduced, overall output was increased, and products started becoming standardized. This meant that what was previously reserved for the wealthy and privileged could now be enjoyed by many more, as increased supply and reduced manufacturing costs reduced the final price of many, many products. 

That is not to say that everyone benefitted, or that those who did, did so equitably. Automation and standardization had the strongest impact on the livelihood of craftsmen, with many finding they needed a new line of work to continue making a living. Today, it is lower-skilled, underprivileged workers who are bearing the brunt of “collateral damage”. And it is important to remember that industrialization has had a major impact on climate change.

How technology is automating tasks

From mundane tasks like sending emails to complicated financial calculations, the pace of change has been accelerating and automation is revolutionizing human work. With the rise of robots and AI, machine learning, and tools like Slack, DocuSign, and Zapier, businesses are using these capabilities to automate mundane tasks. This allows them to focus on strategic planning and problem-solving, and allows them to service clients better, faster, or with less geographical limitation.

Automation is changing the way humans work, too. It helps companies manage workflows and business processes, so they can allocate resources where they're most needed. Automation also helps humans collaborate with one another, instead of spending all day doing manual tasks.

The most striking example is the rise of robots in manufacturing. Low- and medium-skilled jobs — jobs that once required little education — were the first to disappear. The jobs that replaced them were, for the most part, highly skilled, requiring years or even decades of education. However, less visible is intelligent automation or software automation. Far-reaching, it is changing the way business is done and the nature of work.

Improving office work

Automation is bringing a new level of convenience to an office setting, helping workers get more done in less time. That, in turn, is improving work conditions, just like it did during the first period of industrialization. With less time spent completing repetitive tasks, workers have more time and energy to focus elsewhere. Emails, maintaining financial records, shipping products, filing, and countless others are moving out of the workplace and into software.

Better collaboration

Technology allows for more collaborative work between employees. For example, Google's G Suite lets teams share and edit documents in real-time.

More productivity

Computers and apps help employees work more efficiently. The productivity of computers has increased exponentially since the 1950s. Better software and faster networks enable employees to do more in less time.

Fewer mistakes

Many apps and programs help employees avoid mistakes. For example, software can flag mistakes in documents before they go to print, automated testing can prevent software bugs from being shipped, and automating data entry or very repetitive tasks eliminates human error from the mix.

More detailed reporting

Employees can track and report company information in real-time. In addition to being able to monitor competition, trends, and other benefits from scraping the web, businesses are able to make better business decisions, using data that would be painstaking to compile manually.

Time management

The rise of apps and programs enables users to track their time spent on projects. This data can help them manage their time more effectively and highlight problem areas. Additionally, with improved transparency, project managers can better delegate work, avoiding swamping an employee who’s already beyond capacity while overlooking one that could take the work on.

Remote workers

The possibility of remote work was not even in the radars of most workers of yesteryear’s dreams. But with the acceleration of the new ways of working and all the tools it enables, it is now possible. Tracking time, collaborating on the same documents, communicating without issue, among more make this possible. This is without making mention of the various benefits remote work can bring both to employees and the business.

Areas of impact

Automation is impacting every industry. And it extends beyond just work, it has had a tangible impact on the way we communicate, play, travel, shop, and consume entertainment.  According to the 2016 Omni-Channel Customer Experience Benchmarking Report "automated services make life simpler and easier.” "Consumers want services and retailers to deliver services without requiring consumers to 'figure out' how to contact anyone, or 'figure out' how to complete a transaction."

Each of the following areas is being impacted and revolutionized by automation:

Work

The automation of jobs is an inevitable part of how technology is changing how we work. Some jobs have been replaced by software. Others, such as administrative assistants, are likely to be automated in the future. Jump back to Improving office work for more on this.

Communication

Today, a wide variety of tools including instant messaging, e-mail, blogs, and social media are automating the way we communicate. In time, the technology will evolve to the point where it not only handles the sending and receiving of messages but also the emotional content.

Travel

Automated transportation, such as self-driving cars, is on the way. Autonomous vehicles could save thousands of lives every year, and help make travel safer, more convenient, and less expensive. Moreover, it is only through automation that companies such as Uber and Lyft are able to exist. Just as well, finding and buying an airplane ticket requires absolutely no human interaction nowadays, other than the person purchasing it and software.

Shopping

Albeit only making up for 5% of all retail purchases, online shopping is on the rise, with Amazon now being one of the most valuable companies in the world. Faster delivery times, access to more products, 24/7 shopping, and intelligent suggestions are here. In the future, it is likely that products purchased online could be delivered without any human intervention. 

According to the aforementioned report, "nearly all consumers (96 percent) who purchase through automated services agree that it saves them time". "Automated purchases also save consumers money in three ways: it enables consumers to purchase goods and services without waiting in line or driving miles to a retail store, it increases their speed in receiving items, and it reduces the number of items they have to carry."

Entertainment

Automated entertainment has been around for a while, but it's only now beginning to have an impact. Consumers can use automated software to create music, video, and visual art, only requiring a computer.

Consumption

Automation is also changing the way we consume entertainment — for example, by having on-demand movies, music, and television shows without needing to download them or have somebody sell or send them.

Healthcare

Healthcare is improving in a number of important ways. The internet of things is making it possible for healthcare providers to monitor patients through wearable devices that measure heart rate, blood sugar, and other vital signs, and as consumer wearables continue improving, we are more likely to be able to diagnose disease early on or be alerted about potential problems down the line specific to our lifestyle, bodies, and family history before any symptoms are manifested. This can save and improve countless lives.

Opening a business is now easier than ever, but that also means increased competition.

Bringing the phrase “there’s an app for that” to the 2020s, we can say “there’s a subscription for that”.

With access to a multitude of tools that can help would-be business owners do what was previously expensive, time-consuming, and/or requiring specialist knowledge, opening a business is now easier than ever. What before created behemoths such as Skype is now open-source, just take a look at Jitsy. Virtually anybody can create a website with Wix or Squarespace, and businesses wanting to send automated, personalized emails have a multitude of tools at their disposal. Dropshipping, white-labeling, payment processing, and intelligently targeted marketing mean that even delivering physical goods is possible without ever having to see or talk with a customer, or step foot in the country a company is selling to.

At the same time, these massively diminished barriers of entry also mean that many more people are able to try their hand at entrepreneurship. This results in increased competition, and a constant race to innovate and do better than the competition. It can be hard to compete and to keep track of multiple systems or even get them talking (which, by the way, is one of our fields of expertise).

Ultimately, consumers benefit, and many more people are able to break away from previously completely limiting factors such as geography and even discrimination.

Key takeaways

Like with industrialization, automation is already bringing unimaginable leaps in productivity, access, and overall net improvements to companies and workers. But again, as with yester-century, there will be winners and losers. Anticipating this and what changes to make, whether as a company or an employee, can go a long way in staying ahead of the curve.

Related: Losing jobs to automation

Since the only constant is change, and in a world that expects growth, we can make a parallel with facing the wrong way in moving walkways, such as those found in airports. Standing still means going backward, walking keeps you where you were, and the only way to get ahead is with a real pursuit of innovation and implementing the latest technologies. Those that fear the future and do not change are likely to stay behind. But in such a hard, cold analogy, it’s important to remember that we all carry different baggage, and not everyone is able to run.

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